EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 23, 2013

Mayor's proposal squeezes charities

Plan would cap fee waivers for nonprofits

By Shawn Regan
sregan@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL — The city is about to get a little less charitable with charities.

Mayor James Fiorentini is proposing to limit to $250 the amount of fees the city can waive for any nonprofit organization in a given year.

The proposal, which was triggered by an October request by the YMCA for the city to waive $29,000 in building fees for the group’s Wadleigh House renovation, was developed by Fiorentini at the council’s request.

The YMCA ultimately withdrew its request when it became controversial, leading several councilors to call for a policy governing similar requests in the future. After the YMCA withdrew its proposal, the councilors referred the issue of discounting fees for nonprofit events and projects to a study committee to research the law and develop a uniform policy, which led to the mayor’s proposal.

Fiorentini’s proposal, by virtue of the $250 annual cap, would effectively put an end to waiving building fees. Building fees are typically in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

The measure would not affect many other types of lesser fees, however, such as those that nonprofits are charged to hold festivals, tag-day fundraisers and neighborhood block parties, as well as for one-day liquor and food sales licenses and to rent the City Hall auditorium, among others.

The proposal was filed with City Council at last night’s meeting. The council is expected to consider it at its Feb. 5 meeting.

“Even if we do this, Haverhill would still be one of a very small number of cities that waives nonprofit fees at all,” Councilor William Macek said. “And there are other ways the city can help nonprofits, for instance by providing them with grant money.”

Macek noted the city provided YMCA with $176,000 in federal affordable housing money and $40,000 in site cleanup money for the group’s Wadleigh House development.

The problem with waiving local building fees, Macek said, is that revenue from the fees are already built into the city’s budget.

The mayor’s proposal caps the total that would be available to be waived for all charities in a given year at $5,000, but Macek said he might propose an amendment that would allow the mayor to set the cap annually. That would allow the mayor to adjust the cap up or down, depending on the city’s finances in a given year.

Fiorentini’s proposal, which can be altered by the council, also requires any nonprofit seeking a fee waiver to use at least 80 percent volunteer labor for its event or project. The measure would also allow the mayor to waive charges for the disposal of brush, grass or leaves for up to seven days in a public emergency such as severe weather.